Tropical fish offer new drug hope for epilepsy sufferers

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NEW treatments for epilepsy sufferers have been brought a step closer after a discovery by scientists in Yorkshire using zebrafish.

Researchers from Sheffield University screened a collection of 2,000 compounds to identify mechanisms which suppress epileptic seizures in fish with the condition.

Some 46 compounds, including some already used to treat infections, as well as psychiatric and inflammatory disorders, were found to have anticonvulsant effects which experts say could offer a starting point for the development of new drugs for epilepsy.

About one in every 140 
people in the UK has the 
condition – more than 400,000 people – and about a third still suffer from often devastating effects of untreatable seizures in their daily lives, while others experience side-effects from medication.

Vincent Cunliffe, of the university’s Department of Biomedical Science, who led the project, said zebrafish were proving to be a “remarkably powerful” for use in scientific discovery.

“We took advantage of a unique set of features of the zebrafish to look for new anti-convulsant agents within a library of many different types of compounds with a wide range of known biological activities,” he said.

“Over the last 10 years our zebrafish research has helped us to understand how the nervous system is built and how faults in this construction process may cause neurological and psychiatric diseases.”

Traditional approaches to developing new pharmaceuticals were slower and more costly and adopting the small tropical fish could help save time and money, he added.